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5 Ways Art Therapy Can Help You Manage Anxiety

Updated: May 13

An open scrapbook with a palette of paints beside it as a person is painting a flower to exemplify art therapy for anxiety

Coping with anxiety can be challenging at any age and can be even harder to navigate alone. Stress, fear, or worry can all lead to increased signs of anxiety and it can sometimes be hard to know how to handle. Fortunately, there are ways we can manage our anxiety and many have found a lot of support through art therapy.

What is Anxiety?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes, ‘Anxiety’ as an emotional, mental, and physical response in anticipation of a future concern. Although some anxiety is normal, anxiety disorders are persistent and can have great impacts on our overall health and everyday life. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The way we each experience anxiety can look and feel different for everyone but some of the more common signs of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) may include;

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on edge

  • Feeling easily fatigued

  • Experiencing difficulty in concentrating

  • Increased agitation

  • Unexplained headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or other pains

  • Overwhelming feelings of worry

  • Troubles sleeping, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep

A woman is lying on a fur rug with her hands over her face to showcase anxiety for this article discussing how art therapy can help with anxiety

How Does Art Therapy Help?

Art therapy may be a truly transformative treatment option for coping with anxiety by providing a calm, expressive, and inclusive space. Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that integrates art and the creative process as a way to support mental health or different life experiences in a therapeutic way. Within a place of containment and safety, this type of practice honours how expressive and creative action can offer a more personalized way of processing thoughts, feelings, or life experiences for people of all ages and across diverse backgrounds.

In previous studies, art therapy has been shown to significantly help those who struggle with anxiety. Images and creative action can be used to express concerns and emotions that may be too difficult to speak to in words alone. Through honouring each individual’s unique ways of processing, art therapy is able to adapt to what you feel supports your goals by combining creativity, collaboration, and meaningful interactions into the healing process. With the support of a qualified art therapist, this creative practice allows time for your nervous systems to feel calm, to get space from any ruminating thoughts or feelings, and to shift your attention towards embracing self-expression or self-empowerment.

5 Ways Art Therapy Can Help You Manage Anxiety Symptoms

A canvas with a series of splotches and colours to showcase an art therapy technique called Doodles & Pattern Making. This technique is part of art therapy for anxiety.

1. Doodles & Pattern Making

Doodling or pattern making is one way art therapy can help with reducing anxiety by engaging with the art in a way that is self-directed and controlled, but without any need for the art to be ‘perfect’. This way of creating is a type of free-association drawing, which helps to foster self-expression, a sense of safety in the creative process, and self-soothing techniques.

A simple doodle of a dragon breathing fire is an example of Portraying Your Anxiety as a Character---one of the technique used in art therapy for anxiety

2. Portraying Your Anxiety as a Character

The feeling of being overwhelmed can oftentimes make verbal expression difficult to access and can worsen one’s self-perceptions surrounding their anxiety. Another art therapy that can support you in stepping out of an anxious spiral, is through drawing out what the anxiety would look like as a character or creature. In this way, the artwork acts as a metaphor and a protective container for distressing thoughts or feelings. In turn, this creative process gives us the opportunity to better understand why this feeling is showing up and how we can tend to it.

A wooden pallet painted to look like a beach is used in the art therapy for anxiety technique of Illustrating Safe Spaces

3. Illustrating Safe Spaces

Since anxiety can sometimes increase concerns for security and stability, another way art therapy has been used to support people with anxiety is through exploring what their safe space might look like in a drawing or sculpture. The “Safe Space” art therapy directive can help to increase self-regulation, fosters resiliency, and can help to remind you of the support.

A page with a paragraph on it is covered by a series of colour paint strokes to showcase the art therapy for anxiety technique of Visual Journaling

4. Visual Journaling

Similar to the act of doodling or pattern making, visual journaling is a self-directed activity that combines words and images that gives voice and colour to your experiences. This open-ended type of creativity allows you to explore your story and can even help you find what may be contributing to the anxiety.

A part with the words "I live mindfully and eat mindfully" is propped up on a table to showcase the art therapy for anxiety technique of Tokens of Self-Love

5. Tokens of Self-Love

Another art therapy directive that is often used in elevating feelings of anxiety is creating tokens of self-love, such as things like affirmation cards. These kinds of art therapy directives are a great way to help build self-esteem and act as a visual reminder anchored in positive self-talk for overcoming self-doubt.

Looking For More Art Therapy For Anxiety Tips?

The resources shared above are just a few examples of how art therapy can be used to relieve symptoms of anxiety promote self-awareness, expression, and foster a better understanding of ourselves. These art therapy techniques help us to focus on the task at hand, defusing anxiety, and allowing us to become more open to processing thoughts and emotions.

If you or a loved one is struggling with stress or anxiety, there is help available. Contact Creative Psych to book your free 15-minute consultation with one of our art psychotherapists.

Finding a music or art psychotherapist can help you achieve your goals in a fun, effective way.

Further Research:

Abbing A, Baars EW, de Sonneville L, Ponstein AS, Swaab H. The Effectiveness of Art Therapy for Anxiety in Adult Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Front Psychol. 2019 May 29;10:1203. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01203. PMID: 31191400; PMCID: PMC6549595.

Abbing, A., Ponstein, A., van Hooren, S., de Sonneville, L., Swaab, H., & Baars, E. (2018). The effectiveness of art therapy for anxiety in adults: A systematic review of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials. PloS one, 13(12), e0208716.

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